Last nights drama My murder was heart wrenching, thought provoking and all too familiar. Unfortunately for myself, colleagues and friends this was our first experience of losing a young person we were working with. From a personal perspective, My Murder was very, very difficult to watch. I remember the day we heard that Shak had passed and the numbness that spread through the office and the support we had to provide for one another. After watching My Murder last night and going through a multitude of emotions, I came to a few conclusions. These conclusions are from an inside perspective. A perspective which was not shown last night but one which I feel needs to be shared. Below are 3 lessons that I learnt from Shak’s murder.
1. The need for Clinical Supervision for Youth Offending Service
The first thing people say when you work with young people in the field of serious youth violence is that there is a likelihood that you may lose a young person to murder. It’s just the way it goes. Thanks for the warning but how about some support for workers when it does actually hit the fan. When Shak passed workers gathered together, cried together, prayed together, encouraged one another and supported each other to the best of our ability. Yet, there was no outside space where staff could unleash their emotions with out fear of being diagnosed with mental health issues. I can not understand, in a field where staff regularly witness testimonies of rape, robberies, violence, face abuse and on the rare occasion have a client murdered that there is not regular out side 1:1 or group clinical supervision. It’s not enough that youth offending staff have monthly task orientated supervision with their line manager. Nor is it sufficient to be offered one session of counselling after such a horrific and traumatising event. Regular outside supervision, with trained clinical psychologists is the key. I believe if youth offending service staff are offered this, productivity and well being will improve. With the high level of case loads YOS staff deal with, this is the least local authorities can provide.
2. The Media are part of the problem
Let’s get one straight. Shak was on his way out of gang life. I think My Murder depicted the everyday struggle of a young inner city youth battling with his surroundings very well. Shak was no angel but I remember waking up on Sunday morning to the News of the World front cover above and feeling physically sick. Firstly, the picture with the knife was an old picture. Secondly, workers will testify he was so focused on trying to stay positive and move on with his life. However, the front page of he News of the World did not show this. A mother had just lost her son to an ambush. Where was the sensitivity? Shak was the victim, yet time and time again the media are allowed to twist the facts and create a moral panic in the UK. I do believe Shak’s ethnicity played a part in how he was portrayed. Too often its easy to come to this conclusion – Black boy + Inner city + Murder = Gang!?! Obviously Shak’s murder was pre-Leveson inquiry and pre-UK summer riots. I wonder if Shak would have been depicted as the victim in light of these two events. The unfortunate truth is, probably not. I am glad that there is now more scrutiny on how the media and in particular the written press report on stories.
3. Let’s not forget Samantha Joseph is a victim as well
Samantha Joseph did not die. Samantha Joseph was key to Shak’s death. These are the two facts where people will disagree with me suggesting she is a victim. However, if we look closely, Samantha was a young girl caught up in a dangerous lifestyle which many young women find difficult to break. Fear and panic make the most rational people do stupid things. Who could Samantha turn to in her time of trouble? Where could she get advice from? Samantha made some fatal decisions that day but I don’t believe she intended for Shak to die. For a deeper understanding of some of issues around girls and gangs I would recommend reading ROTA (March 2011) The Female Voice in Violence Project. Final report: This is it. This is my life… written by Carlene Firmin. The report gives an insight into the pressures young girls face who are caught up in gang life.